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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Got leftover potatoes? Make these!

Recipe for Restaurant Recreation: Arby's Loaded Potato Bites

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and all week I’ve been seeing articles about how to cut the calories in the meal or what to eat so that you don’t consume a bazillion calories. I see it every year and it kinda drives me batty.

Holiday calories don’t count! We all need to splurge a little every now and then. To me, “splurge” means enjoying a piece of pumpkin pie – not three – without any guilt.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is a great way – other than potato pancakes – to use up leftover mashed potatoes. If you’ve ever been to Arby’s and love their Loaded Potato Bites than you are in luck because they were the inspiration for this recipe. And they are pretty spot on too - crispy on the outside, and soft and cheesy on the inside with bits of bacon and scallions. A guilty pleasure for sure, but share them with some friends and I swear you won’t be sorry.

I should have taken a shot of the inside of these babies for you, but I ate them instead.

Loaded Potato Bites
*Makes 18-24 bites depending on size
Print it!

- 2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
- 2 tablespoons of flour
- 2/3 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
- 3 strips bacon
- 1/3 cup scallions, chopped
- 1 egg
- 1 ¼ - 1 ½ cups Italian bread crumbs
- Oil for frying
- Salt and Pepper
- Ranch or Honey Mustard for dipping


1. Take potatoes out of the fridge and let sit for a few minutes to take the chill off a bit. Meanwhile shred the cheese, chop scallions, and cook bacon then dice finely. Add potatoes and flour to a large mixing bowl and stir to combine well, then add cheese, bacon, and scallions. Take about a heaping tablespoon of mixture and roll with hands into a small ball. It if doesn’t hold its shape, add a little more flour to make the potatoes sturdy. Repeat until done.

2. Heat oil in a medium sauce pan – or use your fryer – over medium/medium high heat to about 350-375 degrees. Whisk egg into a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Place bread crumbs in an additional bowl. Dip each ball in egg and then roll in bread crumbs until fully coated. Set aside on a sheet pan.

3. Test oil with one ball. The oil should bubble when potato is in oil and ball should take about 1-2 minutes to brown and cook through. (If takes longer the oil needs to be hotter, if it browned too quickly on the outside and the inside is still cold, the temperature needs to be lower.) Once oil is ready, add potato balls in small batches and fry for 1-2 minutes – it will depend on size. Remove with slotted spoon and place on paper lined plate to allow excess oil to drain off. Repeat until done.

4. Allow to cool for a minute or two and serve with dipping sauce.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Turkey Day Favorite: Green Bean Casserole

Let me start by saying it was never my intention to make and post a green bean casserole recipe for this blog. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes out there claiming to be the best, better than Campbell’s, better than your mother’s, and most are completely made from scratch.

The world didn’t need another one. Yet here I am, posting one.


Because I needed to use up a lot of green beans and I happened to like the way it came out.

You see, when Brent and I do our major bulk shopping trips, we always pick up some frozen vegetables. Sure, we prefer fresh, but some nights you just don’t feel like shopping so we keep a few options on hand. We decided it was a totally wise decision on our part to buy a 5lb bag of frozen whole green beans for two people.

It’s been 3 months and we still aren’t through the whole bag yet. So one night I decided to take a stab at making green bean casserole since I had mushrooms to use up as well.

Now I’m not going to tell you it is better than anyone else’s, or the best ever, but I will say this…

I can’t tell you what the hell else I made for dinner that night and I might never make the original version again. Even though I always did doctor that recipe up a bit anyway.

It’s good, maybe not the best, but I did add bacon to it, so it does have that going for it. BUT you can totally leave it out of you are a vegetarian. Just substitute with more butter =) Win-win!

So below is my recipe that I totally threw together and it ended up coming out pretty good. For the record, I was planning on frying my own onions up for the top, but Brent said that was ”ridiculousness” and we decided on the panko topping listed below. Which I thought worked pretty well because you need that crispy onion topping on a GBC.

Also, if you want to use fresh green beans instead of frozen, just blanch them first and you should be good to go.

Green Bean Casserole

*Serves 4-6
Print this recipe

- 1 pound frozen whole green beans, thawed
- 3 slices bacon, cut into strips
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 1 extra large garlic clove, minced
- 2 cups sliced baby bella mushrooms
- 3.5 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 pinches nutmeg
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- Scant ½ teaspoon onion powder
- Salt and pepper


1- In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat cook sliced bacon until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon – leaving the grease in the pan – and set aside in a medium bowl.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Simple Supper: Blackened Fish Sandwiches

I can’t deny the fact that living in the Tampa Bay area for so long hasn’t left some sort of impression on me. I love a good sunset, I know how to combat humidity riddled hair days, I wear sandals 360 days a year, and I love a good fish sandwich.

Before moving here, I’d never had a fish sandwich. Sure, I’d had fried whole belly clam rolls, or hot lobster rolls – very tradition New England fare – but not a simple fish sandwich. Florida converted me to them. I suppose it was only a matter of time.

If you ever travel to the Tampa area, I highly suggest you seek out a Grouper Sandwich. Pretty much every local restaurant serves them, so you won’t have to search hard. You can get them fried, grilled, or blackened. I prefer them fried with a slice of cheese and Brent likes them blackened. I honestly don’t know one person who has ever ordered one grilled, but you can if you want.

You may be wondering why the post it titled TILAPIA and I’m talking about grouper. The point is that grouper can be pretty pricey, so when I get a craving for something similar, I opt for the more wallet friendly and readily available Tilapia. While you can’t mistake tilapia for grouper, enough of the notes are there to hit the spot when I don’t feel like dining out. An added bonus is that tilapia cooks fairly fast and dinner can be done in about 20 minutes.

This particular night, I went for a blackened tilapia and made an avocado and dill spread to balance out the heat.

Blackened Tilapia Sandwiches with Avocado-Dill Spread
*Makes 2

- 2 tilapia fillets, roughly 4-6oz
- 2 sandwich buns, any kind you prefer
- ½ a Hass avocado
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 1 teaspoon dried dill
- Squeeze of lime juice
- 1 teaspoon paprika*
- 1 teaspoon seasoned salt*
- ½ teaspoon black pepper*
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper*
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder*
- ½ teaspoon onion powder*
- 1/8 teaspoon celery salt*
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (use more for more heat)*
- 1 tablespoon butter or oil
- Lettuce, tomato, and onion if desired
* Or just use any blackened seasoning you like.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Florentine Crusted Pork Chops

It’s starting to get dark earlier now.

This means taking pictures indoors because it is impossible for me to have dinner ready before 7pm. Other than that, I actually do like changes the clocks back. I need the light in the morning to get moving. That, and a good, strong cup of coffee.

Brent, on the other hand, hates it and will bitch and moan about it until we spring forward. It’s another one of those little things that we are polar opposites about. But he is also able to sleep until 8:30 AM during the week while I’m trying to get up by 6:30AM.

How is that even fair?

So let’s talk about food for a minute! This is a FOOD blog after all. Currently my house is on a pantry cooking challenge. It gets interesting when we go through these challenges, which is about every 3 months or so. Some meals are complete and utter failures, and other times, a pretty great new dish comes together.

This dish, thankfully, is the latter. I had some boneless pork chops I wanted to use and after brainstorming, this idea is what came along. The chops were crispy, but still moist inside, and the spinach and cheese on top kept it from being a plain ol’ boring fried chop. And I was surprised but pork chops actually went well with a side of pasta. I don’t think I’ve ever tried it before.

There is one thing I would do differently next time and that would be waiting to use fresh spinach that had been steamed or sautéed up. But there was no need to go to the store just for that when I had frozen that would work just fine. Use whichever you have on hand!

Florentine Crusted Pork Chops

*Serves 4
Printable Recipe

- 4 boneless pork chops, pounded 1/3” thick
- 1 egg
- Splash of water
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 – 1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 cup frozen spinach, thawed
- ¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper


1. Whisk egg in a small bowl and add a splash of water. Lay bread crumbs and flour out on separate plates. Season flour with salt and pepper. Add canola oil to a large sauté pan and heat to medium high heat.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Baking at Midnight: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

One thing that Brent and I differ on is keeping snacks on hand in the house. I have a strict policy of not buying sweets or junk food at the store, because honestly if they are in the house I will eat it. ALL of it. I have no self-control.

Sure, I get cravings for cookies, brownies, and chips, but the craving is rarely strong enough to make me want to drive to the store and go buy some. Brent on the other hand never resists he sweet tooth. That man will leave the house at any time of night if he wants some ice cream.

The point I’m getting at is that the “don’t buy it” game plan has served me well for a number of years. Until recently when I started to keep things like flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and chocolate chips on hand.

Do you see where this is going? Do you know how easy it can be to convince yourself at midnight on a Friday that baking cookies is a suburb idea?

I do. And I have 3 extra pounds to prove it.

A recently new product is Reese’s MINI Peanut Butter cups. I love Reese’s and the second I saw the commercial I knew I wanted to try making some cookies with them.

These cookies are pretty awesome. They are soft, slightly chewy and not overly sweet. Oh and the big peanut butter filled bites? They rock. If you have a well-stocked pantry, all you will need is the Reese’s to make them! Resistance is futile.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
*Makes 2 dozen(ish)

- 2 sticks room temperature butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 ½ cups of Reese’s Mini Peanut Butter Cups

1. In a large mixing bowl beat butter and sugar together until smooth. Add vanilla and eggs. Beat again until mixture becomes fluffy and light.

2. In a separate bowl combines flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda. Stir to combine, and then add gradually to mixture of butter/sugar/eggs beating until fully combined. Gently fold in Reese’s cups.

3. Preheat over to 350 degrees. Drop small golf ball-sized amounts of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 6-8 minutes. Allow to cool completely before storing.

A couple of notes:

- I needed about a large bag and half of mini Reese’s.

- The dough will seem stiff – it’s totally OK.

- If using a spoon to drop the cookies, it is helpful to spray it just a bit with cooking spray.

- These will keep for about 3 days in an airtight container.

And if you’re wondering what to do with the leftover Reese’s that didn’t make it in to the batter. I suggest tosses them in the freezer for moments of weakness.

Recipe adapted from: Hershey’s Perfect White Chip Cookies Recipe


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Grinders - A Summer Favorite

Summer is starting to wind down and the Autumn Equinox is only a few days away and will mark the official start of fall. Personally, fall is my favorite season…even though here in Florida it isn’t exactly colorful and crisp and cool. Still, the humidity seems to subside a little and we do have some beautiful days of bright blue cloudless skies with a slight gentle breeze every so often.

This past summer has been a bit strange for me. Personal circumstances disrupted my everyday routine of working, studying, cooking, and blogging, which lead to my absence here. Amidst all the chaos and craziness that summer brought, I think the best moments for me were the quieter ones. One of our favorite things to do during the summer is on Sunday nights to pack a small picnic – or pick up a pizza- and head to the beach to eat, take a stroll, and enjoy the sunset. If you live anywhere near a beach, I highly recommend ending your weekend on such a relaxing note.

These grinders – or subs/hoagies as other regions call them – are one of my top three favorites. At Coffee’s in Old Lyme, CT they make an amazing Italian Grinder and these are my almost-as-good- as-the-real-thing recipe. Sometimes simple is best and these definitely hit the spot whether at a park, on the beach, or tailgating before a football game.

The recipe below gives some very adaptable guidelines for amounts of each ingredient. Feel free to adjust as desired.

Italian Combo Grinders
* Makes 4 grinders (6”)
(Printable recipe)

- 2 foot long Italian baguettes
- 1/3 pound sliced deli pepperoni
- 1/3 pound sliced deli ham
- 1/3 pound sliced deli capicola
- 1/3 pound sliced deli cooked salami
- 1/3 pound sliced provolone cheese
- Thinly sliced tomatoes
- Thinly sliced red onion
- Shaved iceberg lettuce
- Olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
- Dried oregano
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Salt and Pepper


1. Slice open baguettes ¾ the way through. Layer in deli meats and cheese and then top with tomatoes, onions, and lettuce. Lightly drizzle on olive oil and red wine vinegar, then season gently to taste with salt, pepper, dried oregano, and parmesan.

If traveling, wrap tightly in aluminum foil and seal in a Ziploc if placing in a cooler of ice.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My black thumb strikes again!

I was lucky enough to inherit a lot of great qualities from both of my parents, but their green thumb was definitely not one of them. It’s pretty much a give in that I will eventually kill any plant I’m put in charge of. I can’t even keep those little “lucky bamboo” plants alive longer than a month or so. I have no idea why I seem to have such a honker of a black thumb, but I figure I can’t excel at everything in life and accept it as a small flaw and then go eat some ice cream.

Still, every year I am so jealous of people who can plant a little garden and get beautiful veggies and herbs by summer’s end. This year I decided to give herbs a try and I was met with some success. I planted basil, cilantro, parsley, chives, dill, and oregano. What I ended up with is a lot of weeds, a sprout of dill, a little tiny bit of cilantro, the start of some parsley and more basil than I know what to do with at this point. The basil has pretty much become a monster plant.

Surprisingly Brent knows more about growing herbs than I knew he did, and has helped me out a wee bit. But then he keeps saying we should give some of the basil away and I’m thinking not. I grew something! From a seed. It’s like my baby and there is no way someone else is going to reap the benefits of my diligent watering everyday. Especially since everything else was pretty much a bust.

This picture was about two weeks ago and it has gotten even bigger!

So I’ve been dreaming up as many ways to use the basil as possible. One dish I knew without a doubt I was going to make once I could pillage some leaves was a caprese salad. For me the caprese salad screams summertime with fresh ripe tomatoes, sweet mozzarella, and bright basil. It’s an absolutely perfect salad and I could probably eat it everyday if given the chance.

While the last thing the world needs is another recipe for such a simple salad, I figured I’d share the basic idea here because just posting my failed attempt at growing herbs isn’t all that exciting. And I’ve come realize that I do one thing that most people do not… I add some red onion. Is that weird? I just like the contrast of flavor it has against the other ingredients. Don’t use too much though or it will overpower everything else.

On the day I went to pick up the tomatoes, the larger vine-ripened and beefsteaks weren’t looking so hot. They were kinda pale and not a juicy red color, so I went with roma that day. Use any kind you prefer.

Caprese Salad
*Serves how ever many you want!
(printable recipe)

- fresh, beautifully ripe tomatoes
- fresh mozzarella
- red onion
- basil
- balsamic vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper

Fast and Loose Directions:

- Evenly slice your tomatoes and mozzarella to be about the same size. Generally I use about 25% less mozzarella than I will tomato. Layer on a plate.

- If doing larger slices of tomato and mozzarella, thinly slice red onion, or mince red onion if using smaller, bite-sized portions. As a general rule, I will only use about the same amount of red onion as I will basil. Layer in or on top of salad.

- Tear or mince basil. You can leave it whole as well and layer in-between the mozzarella and tomatoes.

- Season with salt and pepper, than lightly drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pesto Chicken Salad

If you were to ask me to list my top three most hated foods, the list would most certainly include mayonnaise. I just can’t stomach it and therefore I steer clear of a lot of summer favorites such as potato salad, macaroni salad, and chicken salad. This recipe is my solution to that problem and is probably one of my favorite new recipes I’ve come up with in the last couple of months. It’s very satisfying but not overly heavy, and if you buy a rotisserie chicken to use, you won’t even need to turn the oven on. An added bonus is that it’s a little healthier given that mayo has a good amount of calories in it.

The “hardest” part of making this salad is the prep work, other than that it comes together in a snap and is a great make ahead lunch or light summer supper. When we had this for dinner a couple of weeks ago we served it with a lightly toasted flatbread and some mixed greens but you can certainly enjoy it alone, either warm or cold.

Pesto Chicken Salad

*Serves 4- 6
(printable recipe)

- 3 cups cooked and shredded chicken
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
- 1 cup baby swiss cheese, cubed
- ½ cup chopped prosciutto
- ¾ cup artichokes, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup red onion, minced
- 3 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon prepared pesto
- Salt and pepper

Optional: flatbreads, pita bread, fresh spinach, arugula, or mesclun greens


1. Prep and chop the chicken, tomatoes, cheese, prosciutto, artichokes, and red onion. Add to a large mixing bowl.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Seriously Awesome Burgers

Last night I came home from work and the last thing I felt like doing was putting any effort into cooking. I knew we had some burgers in the freezer, so I pulled them out to thaw and decided tater tots for a side.

Classy, I know.

Once Brent threw them on the grill, I decided that I was just going to eat mine with cheese, mustard, and ketchup. No fancy pants toppings this time! Just a damn good and simple burger.

Until, I decided that bacon didn’t sound too bad…and if I was cooking bacon I could certainly take 5 minutes to sauté some crimini mushrooms because I need to use them up… and oh no, we only have one slice left of the good cheese, so why don’t I use up the goat cheese in there from that failed dish I attempted the other night… oooh I have a lonely little sun-dried tomato…I’ll make a goat cheese sun-dried tomato spread for it! That jar has been taking up way too much space in the fridge anyway.

And right there folks, is how I almost always get carried away with dinner. Sometimes I think there should a twelve step program of some sort for this type of behavior. But then…what would I share with you?

These little beauties were delicious and completely satisfied my burger craving. The burger was juicy, the bacon crispy, and the goat cheese sun-dried tomato spread was awesome. It was the perfect compliment to the burger and other toppings. I devoured these with no shame, juice dripping down my chin, and inevitably onto my shirt, which now is probably ruined. Not that this is anything new to me, I tend to always get something on me from either the cooking or eating part of the process.

With Memorial Day coming up, the spread would be a great and simple addition to your cook out. It seriously takes less than 2 minutes to whip together, and that includes pulling out the ingredients!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Make-At-Home Frozen Burritos

I have a dirty little secret.

But before I tell you what it is, here is the thing…I get burnt out on cooking some nights. As much as I love trying to come up with interesting new things to eat for dinner, there are days when I have no inspiration. Or maybe it was a crazy stressful day and all I really want is a margarita.

Either way, there are nights were I will eat frozen burritos for dinner.

Brent and I try to keep some frozen items stocked up for when we want a quick snack or lunch on the weekend. We try and mix it up most of the time, but recently Brent has developed a deep love for the frozen burrito, so they are almost always on hand. They are usually his “second dinner”. That is if he isn’t having a late night bowl of ice cream.

Side note: How is it that boys can eat whatever they want and not gain a pound? I swear if I had his eating habits, I’d double in size in less than a month.

Back to burritos! So this past weekend we ran out, and Brent asked me to put them on the grocery list. Instead, I decided that it was time to make them at home and see how it goes.

My personal belief is that anything you make at home will be healthier, and better for you, than what you may get in a restaurant or buying it pre-made. This does not mean by any means that I won’t get down with that stuff every so often; I just try to keep it to a minimum. To me, it’s all about balance and moderation.

I’m happy to say that I think these worked out perfectly. They froze fine and heated up without a problem. And they tasted pretty good too!

My favorite thing to do when I have a frozen burrito (or two) for dinner is to load it up with fresh veggies on top. After I heat them up and melt some cheese on top, I chop up whatever produce I happen to have on hand and toss it on. Add a little sour cream, salsa or my favorite Cholula and it’s ready to be devoured.

In this picture, I used radicchio, tomatoes, cilantro, scallions and Cholula. I’ve also topped them with mixed greens, spinach, arugula, red onions, and avocados to name a few. I will say that adding the veggies make me feel a little less guilty, and actually make it a more satisfying meal. And it’s ready in no time, so that is a definite plus on a busy or exhausting night!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shrimp and Andouille Cajun-style Pizza

There are few things I love more than pizza and I love to experiment and come up with new topping combos. I’d guess we have pizza about once every ten days. And while we never tire of it, we do get burnt out on buying it. Once I discovered that out local grocery store sells fresh dough, it was on! Especially since I don’t have what I consider the proper amount of space, or tools, in my current kitchen to tackle making my own. Let’s face it… I don’t really have the patience for “letting things rise” either.

I’ve made many pizzas over the last few months hoping to share them with you. Unfortunately pizza is kind of a hard thing to photograph, but I was happy enough with these shots to share them with you.

Brent is always in charge of forming the crust when we make pizza. I’ve tried to figure it out, but he has experience doing it at a restaurant, so now I just delegate the job to him.

After I clean the countertops off thoroughly and threaten the cats with water torture treatment if they come anywhere NEAR it, Brent gets to work rolling, flipping, throwing flour all around, and stretching the dough out to the perfect shape.

Normally I have all the toppings set up to go as soon as he is done. For this pizza I did a Shrimp and Andouille Sausage pizza complete with two kinds of cheese, peppers and onions and a slightly spicy sauce. Prepping the ingredients is very easy, just be sure you slice the veggies as thin as possible – a mandolin is great for this! I cube the andouille up to be about the same size as the shrimp after I clean it, remove the shell and cut it into thirds.

I’m slightly obsessive about toppings being the same size. It's weird, I know.

Next it’s just time to shred some cheese and mix together the sauce. I went simple with tomato sauce with some added herbs, but you can just use your favorite brand!

Pop it into a piping hot oven and in less than 15 minutes, it’s ready!

I would have loved to use green peppers for some color, but Brent hates them so we went with yellow.
Use whatever color you prefer.

I think what surprised me most about this pizza was how the andouille gave it a lot of flavor throughout, but didn't overpower the other ingredients. The veggies were cooked just right with out being mushy or undercooked, and the shrimp was tender. I’ll definitely make this one again.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Baked Spinach and Sausage Stuffed Tomato

In general, I think the theory that our taste buds changed every seven years is true. When I was little I didn’t care too much for tomatoes, but now I like them for the most part. Except, I still hate the squishy guts inside. I love the idea of stuffing tomatoes and baking them till they are slightly soft. This is probably because I have a slight obsession with stuffing items with delicious concoctions. It’s safe to say that anything stuffed makes me happy. And if you pair something stuffed with any kind of dip or sauce, I have seriously died and gone to heaven.

Anyway, this recipe can do triple duty in your kitchen. It can be served as a main course, an interesting side dish, or if you use roma tomatoes, it can be a great appetizer. This makes 4 large vine-ripe or beefsteak tomatoes, but if you want to make it as an app, go with about 6 roma tomatoes and halve them.

Even though my cheese got a little too browned, I couldn't not share these with you.

Italian Sausage and Spinach Baked Stuffed Tomatoes
*Makes 4
(printable recipe)

What you need:
- 4-5oz loose mild Italian sausage
- 4 large beefsteak or vine-ripened tomatoes
- ¼ cup minced onion
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 1/3 cup frozen spinach, squeezed of excess liquid
- 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese
- ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon garlic salt
- salt and pepper

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Foodbuzz Event at Carrabba's Italian Grill

Over the weekend I was invited to participate in a Foodbuzz Tastemaker Event at a local Carrabba’s Italian Grill. This was such a wonderful opportunity to not only get a "behind the scenes" look at Carrabba’s and their food philosophy, but also the chance to meet with other Foodbuzz Featured Publishers. Brent came along with me for the experience.

Before I get started, let me give you a little background on Carrabba's. The first Carrabba's started in 1986 as a family restaurant in Houston. Several year's later, they partnered with the parent company of Outback Steakhouse and added several more locations. Today Carrabba's Italian Grill operates in over half of the U.S. with nearly 250 restaurants.

I've eaten at Carrabba’s many times over the years and honestly I've never been disappointed with their food. I think they are one of only two - maybe three - chain restaurants that have consistently good food that is seasoned perfectly and cooked well. After meeting with many of Carrabba's employees this past weekend, I realized that this is due to two simple factors - passion for what they do and fresh ingredients.

Our event was hosted at the Carrabba's Italian Grill at 700 N. Dale Mabry in Tampa, FL. Brent and I know this location well because it isn't too far from where we use to live.


Once everyone arrived and introduced themselves, we walked over to the open kitchen to watch a demonstration of pasta cooking techniques and pizza making.

Jay, Joel, and Josh lead the demonstration 
These guys had a wealth of knowledge and shared so many great tips on the best way to cook pasta.
Some highlights include:

- Always cooking pasta in clean, boiling water.
- Add salt once the water is at a full boil.
- They recommend cooking no more than one pound of pasta to one gallon of water.
- Use a spoon or ladle to stir short cuts of pasta, and a two prong serving fork for long pastas. Always use a spoon for filled pastas such as ravioli.
- Never rinse your pasta!

I think the best tip we were given was that when cooking long pastas, instead of dropping it right into your pot, you should swirl it around first to soften it.

They also recommend adding 1oz of salt to one gallon of water. I personally think that is too much for my taste, but to each their own.

During the pasta demonstration they prepared the above rigatoni for us to taste, as well as a simple pesto pasta and another one with their house red sauce. I believe it's technically called the pomodoro sauce... but don't hold me to that. I was a wee bit too busy eating at that moment.

Both of these pastas were simple, but very tasty. A side salad and a hunk of bread and I would be in comfort food heaven.

One seemingly small detail they shared with us was how they cut their boiling time for a pot of pasta from 20 minutes to 7 by changing the type of pot they use. Having worked in hospitality for years and seeing first hand how many restaurants don't care about "improving" on things that work "just fine", I really appreciated their approach and trying to find ways to make what they do more efficient.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Strawberry Bistro Salad

This is my favorite salad of all time. It has mixed greens, strawberries, walnuts, bleu cheese, tortilla strips, and raspberry vinaigrette. Now if you’re thinking that all those ingredients don’t sound good together - don’t worry, I was really skeptical myself the first time I tried it. When the waitress described the salad to me, I must have looked hesitant because she assured me it was tasty, and she was right. Years later, when I worked at Grillmarks as a bartender, I’d have to assure many guests too and I can’t recall one time they didn’t like it.

Such a pretty salad!

Side note: I don’t recommend going to work at one of your favorite places to eat; you will inevitably gain a minimum of 10 pounds. Trust me on this.

The “glue” that pulls all the ingredients together is the raspberry vinaigrette. I’ve never had another one like it. It’s sweet, tangy, and slightly thicker than your normal vinaigrette dressing. I’ve tried several store brands over the years trying to get one that was close, and failed miserably at home many times over attempting to replicate it. And then the other week, I happened to see a bottle of raspberry vinaigrette and the color was the closest I’d seen yet. (The color of Grillmark’s vinaigrette was PINK. Like really pink.) So I snatched it up and decided to make salads for dinner.

Strawberry Bistro Salad
*Serves 4 as side salad
(printable recipe)

What you need:
- 6-8 oz mesclun mixed greens
- ½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
- 1/3 cup bleu cheese, crumbled
- 1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
- 1/3 cup Marie’s Raspberry Vinaigrette
- 1 ½ tablespoon plain yogurt
- tortilla strips*
*My store has them in the same aisle as the croutons

What to do:

1. Start by toasting your walnuts in a dry sauté pan over low heat for about 6-8 minutes. Give them a toss every couple of minutes until fragrant. Core and slice strawberries.

2. Mix the raspberry vinaigrette with the yogurt. I did this to make it a bit thicker like the original.

3. In a large bowl, or on individual plates, combine greens, bleu cheese, walnuts, strawberries, tortilla strips, and drizzle with raspberry vinaigrette. Serve and enjoy.

Thoughts: Success! While the vinaigrette wasn’t exactly spot on, it was {thisclose} to being perfect. This is the closest I’ve gotten to date, and it definitely satisfied my craving. This is such a light and refreshing salad for summer. If you want to make it more of a meal, you can add grilled chicken or salmon. Both go beautifully with it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Savory Springtime Tart with Ham and Asparagus

I originally made this tart months ago on a day when I apparently was not “all there”. Not unlike like the day I asked Brent how I could thicken up pasta sauce. The answer of course is tomato paste but I was having a blonde moment.

Well, maybe I should say a “brown out” since I’m a brunette.

When I made this recipe originally it was fantastic and we both loved it. There was one minor glitch however. When I decided to make this for dinner, the store didn’t have gruyere. (Big FAIL to you Mr. Grocery Store.) I was NOT in the mood to try another store, so I went to the deli and asked them to slice me the amount I needed. I found out later that gruyere from the deli doesn’t melt all that nicely. So instead of a nice cheesy, melty layer of gruyere…this had little thin sticks of gruyere. Brent said he liked it like this, but I was bummed for several reasons and even though I kept the pictures, I never posted it.

I decided to make it again since Easter is this weekend, and I think it would be an absolutely fantastic way to use up leftover ham. I made a few adjustments from my first attempt and I think it was for the better. This recipe has ham, asparagus, gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, and a Dijon béchamel sauce. It is the perfect storm of yummy goodness.

Savory Springtime Tart
*Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
(printable version)

What you need:
- 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
- ½ medium onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 scant tablespoon flour, plus additional for dusting
- 1 cup milk
- couple of dashes ground nutmeg
- 2.5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- ¾ cup ham, cubed small
- 6-8 medium asparagus spears
- 4 oz gruyere cheese, shredded
- ½ tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Helpful item: Parchment paper

How to do it:

1 – In a medium sauté pan add 2 tablespoons of butter and diced onion. Sauté over medium low heat, keeping pan covered when not stirring occasionally. Cook until onions are caramelized, about 25 minutes. Click here for more detailed instructions on caramelizing onions.

2- While onions are cooking, take asparagus spears and trim the ends. (To find out where to trim, take a few and “snap” them by bending. They will naturally break where you will want to cut.) Next slice them thin and on a bias. Set aside.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sam Zien’s Beer and Brown Sugar Pork Chops

A couple of years ago I happened to catch Sam Zien’s cooking show. His personality and approach to cooking immediately drew me in. I’m not much of a fancy or fussy cook and I tend think food doesn’t have to be overly complicated to be damn good. I certainly can “get down” with those types of meals every now and then, and I appreciate the time and skill they take, but it’s not realistic to me for everyday food. Still, I felt Sam’s approach was very similar to that philosophy.

This recipe that I’ve adapted from his is the first that we tried. I can come up with a dozen different ways to prepare a chicken breast at the drop of a hat, but for some reason I find it harder to do with a good pork chop. This recipe takes some forethought but is simple to prep and the end result is delicious.

     Beer and Brown Sugar Pork Chops
     A little char never hurt anyone =)

*Makes 4 chops
(printable recipe)

What you need:
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup of dark beer – we used Yuengling, he used New Castle
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 4 boneless pork chops, about ¾ inch thick

How to do it:

1. Mix marinade together. Place chops in an airtight container and pour marinade over it. Make sure chops are fully submerged and refrigerate overnight.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Peel n Eat Shrimp - A Great Summer Recipe

A few weeks’ back– ok ok, months - Brent’s mother had a get together at her house for the family. She was having a good ol’ southern fish fry and I decided to make some peel n’ eat shrimp to share while we all waited for Brent to fry up pounds and pounds of tilapia, catfish, and grouper.

I’ve wanted to make peel n’ eat shrimp at home since October when Brent and I took a short getaway to Orlando and we had some pretty great ones at Jimmy Buffett’s MargaritaVille at City Walk. Normally I don’t eat “messy” things like this in public, but they turned out to be a perfect midday snack as we took a break in between the two parks.

Old Bay Peel n’ Eat Shrimp
*Serves 10-12 as an appetizer
(printable recipe)

What you’ll need:
- 4 lbs 31-40 uncooked shrimp, shell on and deveined
- 2 cups light beer
- 1 tablespoon crab boil
- 1/3 cup old bay seasoning
- extra old bay for sprinkling if desired – I used about 2 tablespoons
How to do it:

1- Make sure your shrimp are properly deveined and clean but the shells still on. In a large pot add beer, crab boil, and old bay. Fill pot 2/3 full with water and bring to a boil.

2- Once pot is boiling add shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes or until shrimp is just pink in color. Remove from heat and drain.

3- Allow shrimp to cool and sprinkle with extra seasoning if you like. Chill shrimp for at least an hour before serving.

Thoughts: These are perfect for a summer get together – preferably an outside one! Keep them well iced and a garbage bowl near for the shells. People can dig in, peel, and enjoy. Pair them with the cocktail sauce recipe below or whichever brand you prefer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pinkberry Comes to Tampa!

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to the Grand Opening event for the Tampa Bay area’s first Pinkberry store. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it – Pinkberry is a premium frozen yogurt chain that first opened in West Hollywood in 2005. I have friends in California, so I was familiar with their product but never had the chance to try it. So when their local PR rep invited me to the VIP event last Thursday, I said yes without thinking twice!

When I told Brent about the event, I was actually surprised he agreed to go with me. While I love yogurt – frozen or not – he is not a big fan of it. Still he was very interested in going and wanted give it a try and I think he’s glad he did. In fact, I think he may actually like frozen yogurt now.

We showed up at about 7:15 Thursday night. The official start time was 7PM and it was already pretty busy. I really shouldn’t have been that surprised since Tampa Tweeps were twittering about the Grand Opening and free Pinkberry all day. Foodies were definitely excited about it. The Tampa store is located in Westshore Plaza mall next to PF Changs and Maggiano’s. The latter which loaned their patio for the event.

After we arrived we went to the bar to get some refreshments. They had created two special cocktails for the event using the frozen yogurt. I made sure to try both of them.

A little hard to make out

The first one I tried was the Pomegranate cocktail which was made with Pinkberry pomegranate frozen yogurt, prosecco, pomegranate syrup and was garnished with fresh raspberries. It had a lovely pink color which matched the bright pink tablecloths. My friend C would have loved it.

Out of the two specialty drinks this one was my favorite. It was slightly sweet, creamy, and the alcohol flavor didn’t overpower the fruitiness.

A while later I tried the Original flavor. This one was made with the original Pinkberry frozen yogurt, limoncello, vodka and had fresh blueberries for garnish. It had a more prominent alcohol flavor and was a bit tart but still refreshing.

Shortly after we got there we noticed Pinkberry employees circling with some samples. We grabbed a few and a nearby table and started to sample. We tried all six flavors they were offering that night: Mango, Original, Lychee (the seasonal flavor), Coconut, Chocolate, and Pomegranate.


The original flavor was not too sweet and a little tangy. Brent described it as a “mellow sour cream flavor”, but to me it was more Greek yogurt tang. It had a light creamy texture and would be a great blank canvass if you wanted to load up on toppings.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Go Bold Burgers

Recipe: Grilled Burgers with Arugula, Bacon, Bleu Cheese, and Caramelized Onions

The other night I was outside and could smell someone grilling something and wham! I wanted a burger. I think smelling meat cooking on a grill is a lot like smelling popcorn. You didn’t really have any urge to have it, until the smell wafted over to you.
Burgers are fairly common at our house because they are quick, don’t take a huge amount of effort, and we almost always have the 3 essential ingredients (meat, buns, cheese) on hand. Those three ingredients are the jumping off point; from there we put on whatever is available and tickles our fancy. In all honesty, I don’t think we’ve eaten the exact same burger more than twice.

As I was starting to caramelize the onions I realized that I have never posted a single recipe on here for a burger. So I decided to change that!

Consider this a freestyle recipe

Go Bold Burgers

*Makes 4 burgers
(printable recipe)

- 4 six ounce burgers, ½” – ¾” thick *See tip below
- 4 buns
- 6 slices of bacon, cooked
- 1 small/medium onion, sliced
- seasoning for burgers, whatever you prefer
- crumbled bleu cheese
- arugula
- tomatoes, sliced
- butter for caramelizing, couple tablespoons
- optional: course ground or Dijon mustard


1. Start by caramelizing your onions in butter over medium-low heat. (Click here for my “How To”.)

2. Once your burgers are formed, season them any way you like. I sprinkled ours with a little garlic powder, onion powder, season salt, and black pepper.

3. Heat your grill to high and place burgers on when ready. Cook to desired temperature. About 10-12 minutes for medium, it will depend on your grill’s temperature. When you have about a minute left add your cheese to the top. If you want your buns heated or toasted, add it at this time as well. Be sure to keep an eye on them! Once cheese is melted and buns toasty, remove from grill.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cinnamon and Brown Sugar Pancakes

I have a lot of love for pancakes. When we (me, my sister, and cousins) were little my grandfather would make us pancakes and they were the absolute best. We would get so excited if Grampie was making pancakes for us, especially the pancake men! He even got up early on the morning of my high school graduation to make them for me while everyone else was still asleep. I actually think that is the last I’ve had them. Funny how we remember those little details like that in life. I’ll have to put in a request the next time I’m home.

To this day I can’t tell you what secret ingredient was in there to make them extraordinary. In fact, I think he used Bisquick. Perhaps it was all the love and care that they were made with? Or maybe it was the fact that he made them for us at lunch time? I’m guessing it was the former.

Needless to say it’s slightly disappointing that Brent doesn’t like pancakes. He has a food aversion to buttermilk that stems from some childhood trauma. Even regular pancakes I make without buttermilk he has a hard time enjoying. So I set out to make something a lil different, but not too crazy. Somehow this idea came to me and I ran with it.

Cinnamon and Brown Sugar Pancakes
*Serves 3-4
(printable recipe)

- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 ½ tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 ¼ cups milk*
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- Extra melted butter or cooking spray for the griddle
* The original recipe called for 1 cup but I found the mixture to be too thick. If you like a thick batter, use only 1 cup of milk.


1. In a large bowl combine flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Whisk mixture to incorporate. Melt butter in the microwave and add brown sugar. Stir to melt sugar. Allow to cool, then add milk, vanilla and egg and then mix together.

2. Add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients and stir to combine. There will be some lumps, don’t worry about them.

3. Heat a nonstick griddle to medium-high heat until hot. A drop of butter or water will sizzle when it’s ready. Lightly grease your griddle with melted butter or using cooking spray. Pour a small amount (about ¼ cup) of batter unto the hot griddle. I use a measuring cup to do this. It works great!

4. Cook pancake until golden brown on the bottom and bubbles start to form on top. About 2-3 minutes. Then flip and cook an additional minute or two until the other side is also golden brown. Continue with the rest of the batter until gone – don’t forget to re-grease your pan in between batches!

5. Serve immediately or transfer to a warm ovenproof plate in the oven until ready.

Thoughts: I’ll start off with the most important part – Brent liked them! And I found them to be pretty great too. They were fluffy with the right amount of “spring” to them. The cinnamon flavor shined but wasn’t overpowering, while the vanilla played nicely in the background. I found that the brown sugar added some depth of flavor as well. Obviously it has a different kind of sweetness than white sugar does, and I thought it complimented the cinnamon beautifully. I think it worked in that secret ingredient way that makes people say “what is THAT?” in a good way.

I think these would be perfect to make for a Saturday or Sunday morning breakfast this weekend! And if your pantry is anything like mine, you already have all the ingredients on had. How easy is that?

Pancake recipe adapted from: The Joy of Baking

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Buffalo Chicken Nacho-Style Potato Chips

I put this recipe in the category of “what in the world was I thinking”; because it is sinfully tasty and let’s be honest - I really should be eating healthy things for dinner, not potato chips loaded with chicken, bleu cheese, bacon, and a spicy, creamy wing sauce.

Though the potato chips were baked and homemade… so I had that going for me at least.

Still, I make these sorts of recipes on nights when Brent is working late so I can eat all of it with no shame. In fact, when he came home at 10:30PM and asked what I had for dinner and if there were leftovers, I hesitated to tell him. I mean what girl eats a whole pile of nacho-style potato chips for dinner?

I do apparently. I just can’t help it. While I love yogurt, fruit, and veggies…I can’t help loving sour cream, butter, and cheese more.

So here is the recipe for you to try. Share them with a friend and or scarf them down all on your own – it’s up to you!

       Buffalo Chicken Nacho-Style Potato Chips

*Serves 4 as an appetizer
(printable recipe)

- 1 chicken breast
- 6-8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 3-4 teaspoons of buffalo wing sauce, adjust to your taste
- ½ cup bleu cheese
- ½ cup scallions, chopped
- homemade potato chips or regular ones

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Homemade Dark Russet Potato Chips

Growing up my mom called these “Home Fries” and would serve them if we had hamburgers for dinner on the weekend. I always thought of them more like potato chips but a little more substantial since they are thicker. This is actually going to be a two part post because while you can certainly enjoy these by themselves, I actually made them for a really guilty pleasure.

First things first.

Homemade Potato Chips

*Serves 4
(printable recipe)


- 2 large russet potatoes
- 1.5 tablespoons oil – veggie, olive, canola – whatever you prefer (I used olive oil)
- Salt and pepper

1. Clean your potatoes well. Peel off the skin if you wish, I leave them on. Slice your potatoes thin and evenly. No more than 1/8 of an inch, but a little thinner is better. A mandolin is perfect for this, but not necessary.

2. You will probably have to do this in a couple of batches or using more than one baking sheet at once. So take a portion of the oil and brush a good amount on the sheet. Then take the potatoes and swipe them in the oil on one side and set them down on the other. Similar to how you would dredge chicken or fish in flour. Keep them in a single layer.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Smoked Gouda and Pancetta Potatoes Au Gratin

So the other day I posted a quick poll about what type of potato dish I should make with leftover smoked gouda and pancetta. I didn’t get any feedback before diner time, so I made an executive decision to make the au gratin style. I've made gratins many times so I just went with my standard ratios and adjusted them for the size dish.

I’m an incredibly indecisive person, so this was tough.

I was so happy with how these turned out. It doesn’t always happen that when testing a new recipe I come up with on the fly comes out so well. Sometimes it takes two or three trials before I feel a dish is good enough to share. I got lucky on this one…not that I would have minded making them a few more times because they are really, really yummy.
Smoked Gouda and Pancetta Potatoes Au Gratin
*Serves 4
(printable recipe)
- 1 lb russet potatoes
- 1.5 cups of smoked gouda, shredded
- 2 ¼” thick slices of pancetta, diced small
- ¾ cup milk
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoon butter
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¾ cup panko bread crumbs
- splash of oil
- salt and pepper


1. In a small sauté pan over medium high heat, add a small amount of oil and the diced pancetta. Sauté until pancetta is browned and then remove from heat onto a paper towel to remove excess oil. Peel your potatoes and slice 1/8” thick. If you have a mandolin – bust it out! Set aside.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Being less wasteful with Homemade Croutons

If you ever have a large amount of bread leftover that you need to use up, this is great way. Not only do you save money because you aren’t spending money of prepackaged croutons, but you will be able to get your money’s worth out of each loaf of bread.

Homemade Croutons


- approx 6-8 cups of day old bread cut into 1” cubes*
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

*This is roughly ½ loaf of long French or Italian bread.


1. Cube bread and spread on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with EVOO and sprinkle spices evenly over bread. Toss to evenly distribute seasoning.

2. Place in a 300 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until bread turns a pale golden color and are fully toasted. Give them a shake once halfway through cooking time. Allow to cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Printable Recipe

What kind of crouton flavors do you like?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

POLL: What should I make for dinner tonight?

Tonight we're grilling an awesome pork chop recipe that I hope to share with you guys in the next few days. I'd like your input on how to prepare one of the sides!

I have potatoes, smoked gouda, and pancetta that need to be used. I can't decide if I want to make twice-baked potatoes, au gratin, or just mashed potatoes with the gouda and pancetta.

Which would you choose? Leave your vote in the comments below, and I'll make the winner and share the recipe (or what went wrong, if it fails) soon.

If it helps, steamed broccoli will be our veggie.

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